Declining prices and grants have made it possible for some local schools to add Apple iPads to classrooms, tools they say are versatile and help engage students.
Administrators in Rock Island County said they expect to have more than 1,600 iPads available to students, staff and administrators by fall.
Some schools said they have hundreds of iPads, with the Rock Island-Milan district reporting the highest inventory at 559. All 280 kindergarten through eighth grade students in the Carbon Cliff-Barstow district have iPads.
Other districts, such as Riverdale and Hampton, said they are unsure when, or if, they will be able to afford iPads tor students.
The Rock Island, East Moline and Moline districts recently received a $163,100 Moline Foundation grant to create seven learning labs across the three districts, with 120 iPads. The $163,100 grant is aimed at promoting fourth-grade literacy and includes funding for charging stations, laptops for teachers and teacher training.
Mike Breidenstein, director of technology, said 273 of Rock Island's 559 iPads are used by students, and the rest are used by teachers and administrators. He said there are plans to buy more, and they may replace the laptops teachers currently use.
He said of the $267,000 the district spent on iPads over the past two years, nearly $30,000 came from district funds, and the remainder were purchased through grants, Title 1 and fundraisers.
The Bettendorf district is moving toward having iPads for every student, starting with freshmen and sophomores this fall, district spokeswoman Celeste Miller said, adding that after that, all incoming freshmen will receive one.
She said the district also is starting a pilot program that will provide iPads to some elementary classrooms, starting with third through fifth grade classrooms this fall.
The Carbon-Cliff Barstow district bought iPads for students in kindergarten through second grade, and used a $105,000 grant from the Illinois State Board of Education to buy iPads for third through eighth grade students.
The district received the grant because it developed a vision for using the technology, principal Tim Green said, adding that the district's low-income enrollment, which was 79 percent in 2010, also was a factor.
Riverdale superintendent Ron Jacobs said his district hasn't bought iPads because it hasn't qualified for grants, which are available to districts that failed to meet academic growth targets or who have a large population of low-income students.
He said Riverdale recently hit the academic warning status under No Child Left Behind's ever-increasing standards, but the money available to struggling schools already has been depleted.
The Hampton school district also hasn't been in a position to qualify for grants. Superintendent Tom Berg's words on the subject were short and to the point.
"We are not using any iPads at Hampton," he said. "Given the uncertain financial condition of the state of Illinois, it is difficult to forecast technology purchases of any kind."
Superintendent Chester Lien said Rockridge also has a limited technology budget, and the district's only two iPads were purchased for speech diagnosticians.
United Township superintendent Jay Morrow and Sherrard technology coordinator Jay Wyckoff said they are uncertain what role iPads will play in their districts.
"Financial uncertainty is currently dictating the future of our instructional technology planning," Mr. Morrow said. "We are proceeding cautiously to determine if iPads or any other instructional technology improves academic performance."
Several administrators, including Mr. Jacobs, of Riverdale, and East Moline grade school superintendent Kristen Humphries, said they are eager to take advantage of Apple's low-cost textbooks, available via iPads. Some books are available for $15, dwarfing the cost of traditional textbooks.
"We're still having to look at $120 for an American history text book. That doesn't make any sense to still be spending that kind of money on a hard-bound book when you know you can download the very same book," Mr. Jacobs said.
Mr. Humphries said textbooks available by iPad allow students to delve deeper into related content, such as a biology textbook that teaches about dissection.
"You can dissect a frog using an iPad," he said. "I really see things changing. My big question is how to get iPads in every child's hand. That takes commitment ... It's a money issue. I think it's an equity issue."
Despite the lure of technology, Dick Robertson, assistant professor of teacher education at St. Ambrose University, cautioned against moving away from traditional textbooks.
"You can save money on textbooks, but recent research shows that student comprehension on using these devices is less than it is using a traditional print textbook," Mr. Robertson said. "Now we're getting into 'it's going to be cheaper.' But then, is it better for learning?"
Assistant Moline superintendent Clint Christopher said he believes kids and adults will adapt to reading on the screen, as shown by the large number of adults now reading on iPads and other electronic devices.
The technology trend isn't going away he said. While there is a benefit to reading a physical book, electronic reading allows students to engage in related content and doesn't weigh down their backpacks with heavy textbooks, Mr. Christopher said.
"I think those are advantages, and maybe it's because we're not teaching them to read effectively. It may not be the device ... It may be there are different strategies."